How does Geico know what cars I own?

I’m shopping for car insurance so I went to geico.com to get a quote. It asked me a few personal questions – I think it was name, birthdate and address, and then it presented me with a list of (two) cars and asked which ones I wanted to insure. It had the exact make, model and even the VIN of both of my cars. I just bought one of these cars about 2 months ago.

I live in California, but as far as I’ve been able to determine (from about 60 seconds of googling), California DMV records are not public information, at least not the addresses. So how does Geico know what cars I own, given my name, address and birthdate?

The purchases are on your credit report. Note that they may have asked ‘which cars you have owned’ allowing that you may have disposed of one somehow. But they can also see that you still have an open loan on them and assume you’re still in possession.

Hm, I paid cash for both of these cars. No loans were involved. Would they still appear on my credit report?

Also, I had a third car which I sold to a friend when I bought the newest one. Apparently Geico knew I didn’t own that car anymore. I don’t see how it could have known about that transaction except through DMV records.

Does CA have personal property taxes? Maybe they got the info that way? Or from your previous insurance.

If you bought the cars thru a dealer then the dealer might have sold the info to a data collection agency which in turn sold it to whoever, … eventually to someone Geico has a deal with.

You data is astonishingly valuable. So everyone, everywhere is trying to collect as much as possible and sell it to someone.

California Vehicle Code Section 1808:

If it’s a public record, rest assured that LexisNexis has it in its massive data bases.

Does this mean in practice that anyone can just walk in and snoop around in DMV files?

The (basic, contracted) security guards who patrol the parking lot where I work can look up car owner names by license plate number - they’ll contact you if you’ve left your headlights on, etc. - what sort of database are they accessing?

Insurance agents, and others liscensed by the state to conduct business for insurance companies are privy to DMV records. Qualifications for this privilege include background checks, fingerprinting and constant requirements for continuing education. These are professional obligations and my state, California, takes them seriously and enforceses them diligently. I know because I hold a license. This knowledge is indispensable to conduct business because we are bound to honestly, but situations occur in the course of business when a client or potential client may not be honest, or simply may have forgotten about a matter that is material to a policy. No reputable licensed person would misuse this privilege, but it is absolutely necessary to the process of insurance. Accurate information is essential, since an insurance policy is a legal contract.

You had insurance already through another insurer. You bought from a dealer. You might have bought extended warranties (from another party thru dealer). You had your car serviced anywhere.

There’s four points of data collection and data sale.

Insurance companies and warranty companies know what you drive, because you can’t drive without insurance and cars get serviced. Heck, fill out the tire warranty card or extended protection plan and bingo… another data source.

Get a speeding ticket in Communist NJ and you’ll get calls and snail mail from lawyers urging you to fight it.
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The ones at my office are accessing the database containing registration numbers the employees provided during on-boarding when requesting access to the garage/lot. Or when they buy a new car and are supposed to notify security.

State DMVs sell their info to anybody who’ll pay for it. Insurance companies also share their actuarial info with each other. That’s how they can calculate just how risky a person of your age, geography, and car model is likely to be, so they’ll know how much to (over)charge you. This was true long before Fecebook and faraway hackers could filch all your personal facts while you enjoy yourself.

More transparent data access for insurance companies reduces actuarial uncertainty, increases competition and should help lower premiums overall. That aspect per se seems desirable.

My concern would be with the idea that somebody other than an insurance company could access specific non-anonymized data about me, either from the DMV directly or through poor data security at insurance companies. The data held by the DMV would be a good start on identity theft, and there are obviously many issues with someone being able to look up your name and address from your car registration.

At the risk of wasting my breath and wearing out my fingers, I’d like to point out that the insurance business is not based on bullshit. The price a company charges for a particular policy is determined by reason and math. Not only that, but in many states, including California, changes in rates may be denied by the insurance commissioner if those changes are not justified. I’d also like to mention that of every $100 in premium, $60 must be set aside for the payment of claims. That leaves $40 to cover all the other stuff. Is insurance profitable? Of course it is, or no one would ever take the risk to cover your ass. That being said, if one company charges substantially more than others for similar coverage, it’s their way of saying “we don’t really want this business”. What’s profitable this year may not be profitable next year. Car insurance in particular falls under this category. Consider the way new cars are designed, to sacrifice themselves to save the occupants. You’re less likely to be killed or seriously injured, but the extent of the damage to the car may render it a total loss. Who eats that? The company does, and that drives part of the decision making process.
Considering the amount of wild speculation and unfounded guesses upthread, the subject seems out of place in general questions. I know insurance companies are a frequent target for disgruntled folks, but think about it for a moment. When the shit hits the fan, who’s more likely to be of help, your rich uncle who’s got cash in the bank, or your broke brother-in- law? Profit is not always evil.

Not CA.